Research conducted in Iceland suggests that children who receive treatment for ADHD earlier on in life tend to do better in the long term than those who did not receive treatment until later on.
Helga Zoega, who led the research for the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told Reuters, “[Medication’s] short-term efficacy in treating the core symptoms of ADHD – the symptoms of hyperactivity and attention and impulsivity – that has been established. With regard to more functional outcomes, for example academic performance or progress, there’s not as much evidence there as to whether these drugs really help the kids academically in the long term.”
As the research elaborates:
Kids with no record of an ADHD diagnosis tended to score similarly on the standardized math and language arts tests given in fourth and seventh grade. Those who were medicated for the condition were more likely to have their scores decline over the years – especially when stimulants weren’t started until later on.
For math exams in particular, students who started on stimulants within one year of their fourth grade tests had an average score decline of less than one percent between that and their seventh-grade exam – compared to a more than nine percent drop for those who didn’t get treated until sixth or seventh grade.
However, it should be had in mind that researchers did not have access to information about the precise nature and severity of the ADHD the children had, nor if they were receiving other types of behavioural therapy apart from medication.
Zoega added, “Not all kids need medication. It’s important to think about whether alternative treatment options, whether earlier intervention with those could have a beneficial effect.”
It should also be noted that one of the other researchers on the study has received funding from pharmaceutical companies, including those that make stimulant drugs for ADHD.